NEW YORK — After Keith Thurman unified two welterweight world titles by virtue of his decision victory against Danny Garcia in March, the celebration was short-lived.
Though he won the fight, Thurman suffered severe right elbow pain during the bout, and when he later had his arm examined, the doctor discovered loose bodies and calcium deposits. The issues called for surgery, which Thurman had in April. Thurman, who had pain in his elbow going into the fight with Garcia, was done for the year and would be out for at least six months.
Now Thurman is feeling better, and plans for his return are in the works for mid-February or early March, he told reporters at Barclays Center ahead of Saturday night’s junior middleweight world title tripleheader.
Sitting a few feet away from Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) at the joint news conference was welterweight titleholder Errol Spence Jr. (22-0, 19 KOs), who was on hand to announce that he would make his first defense against Lamont Peterson (35-3-1, 17 KOs) on a date to be determined in January.
Spence, a 27-year-old southpaw from DeSoto, Texas, won his belt on May 27 when he traveled to Kell Brook’s hometown of Sheffield, England, and knocked him out in the 11th round.
One of the most significant fights that can be made in the division is a title unification showdown between Thurman and Spence. They both know it and addressed the prospect of it.
Thurman, 28, of Clearwater, Florida, said it would eventually happen.
“I congratulate Errol Spence on that victory overseas. You brought it back, boy,” Thurman said. “That was a great performance, and Errol showed he was the better man. The thing that I love is that when we go toe-to-toe, it’s going to be the greatest American fighters.
“This is what we were bred for. [People] talking this and that [and saying] these people don’t want to fight each other — this is the fight life. This is what we live. We will do a little bit of business. I will be smart. I’m not jumping back in the ring after an injury going after another champion. When we go toe-to-toe, it will be at the right moment for the both of us.”
Spence, a 2012 U.S. Olympian and the 2015 ESPN.com prospect of the year, said a fight with Thurman is something he has wanted for a few years.
“My thoughts are what they’ve been since I was 15-0, when I said I’ll fight Keith Thurman or anybody in the top five,” Spence said. “He got to wait and get ready and go through rehab, but I’m ready when he is. I’m always ready to fight the best. I have a goal. I have dream to be the undisputed welterweight champion of the world, and I’m not going to let anybody stop me from that path.
“This is the fight I’ve been wanting with Keith Thurman for the longest. He said I hadn’t proven myself or won a world title, he’d bust my bubble. So I’m waiting to find out what he’s going to do.”
The fight should be relatively easy to make because both fighters are represented by the same adviser, Al Haymon, and both have ties to Showtime.
Before Thurman gets serious about facing Spence, he says he wants to make sure his elbow is sound with a tune-up fight. Since the win over Garcia and the surgery, there also has been another major change in his life.
“When the doctor said six months, no boxing, I said, well, looks like I’m gettin’ married,” said Thurman, who married his girlfriend, Priyana Thapa, in June in her native country of Nepal after they had met last year at the Tokyo nightclub where she worked.
“It doesn’t feel good to not be an active fighter while you’re in your prime, but like I said, everything happens for a reason. I believe that I’m extremely blessed. I’m champion of the world. I hold two world titles. I worked really hard to be in this position. I’ve been boxing since the age of 7. For the most part, all of my dreams are coming true, minus a few injuries along the way.
“When I touched down [in New York], I talked to my doctor. We got some good news. He felt around [the elbow]. He said, ‘You’re still lacking a little bit of range of motion.’ He threw around some medical terms, but we’re in the stage where it’s feeling a lot better just from a few days of real intensive therapy, which makes me, like, we’re in what we call the bounce-back stage. It’s not going to be long before I’m back in the ring and my arm will be working better than ever.”
Thurman said he had not set a date or an opponent yet for his return fight but was is eager to box again.
“I look forward to getting back in the ring, defending my world titles and then taking that momentum and giving you guys some more exciting fights in 2018,” he said. “This is your boy, Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman. I’m back. You best believe once I brush the dust off, we’re going to get right back to work against top-quality fighters in the welterweight division.”
Thurman, looking over at Spence, added, “Unification doesn’t happen except for right here. Ain’t nobody worrying about [titlist] Jeff Horn [of Australia] overseas.”
Continuing his remarks about Spence, Thurman said, “He has a fight; I have to come back. I would like to get some momentum going. But — real talk — later next year [maybe the Spence fight can happen]. I just unified, so going after another belt later next year is a little more in the works.”
He said he sees the fight happening in “late ’18, early ’19.”
“I’ve never seen a contract with Errol Spence’s name on it and I know he hasn’t seen a contract with my name on it. So that’s just real talk,” Thurman said. “I think we’re going to get a welcome back fight, throw the arm around, test it out.
“My motto stays the same — I got an ‘0’ and I’m not afraid to let it go. If you can beat me, beat me. Real great competition, there’s nothing more satisfying in life, including sex, than a good m—–f—— fight. There’s a level of adrenaline that your body produces that’s just different. I like being in danger. And a lot of fighters don’t put me in danger. A few fighters have put me in danger. And I know [Spence is] going to be training really hard to put me in danger, and I live for that. And I want to rise to the occasion and show him what the truth really looks like.
“This is a fight that you guys have been talking about, you won’t stop talking about and you should be talking about it because when it goes down it will be one of the best fights of his generation, as long as he stays at the top, does his job and I stay at the top and do my job.”